Thursday 21 February 2013

Film: Looper (2012)

This time-travel drama received very good reviews so was on my "must-watch" list as soon as it became available.

Most of the film is set in 2044. Thirty years later, time travel had been invented and promptly made illegal. Which meant that criminals made use of it, for a bizarre purpose - the untraceable disposal of people they wanted to kill. They sent them back alive to 2044 at a prearranged time and place where they were promptly killed and disposed of by one of a group of killers known as loopers - all organised by a man from the future sent back to live in 2044. The loopers were well paid but there was a price: after thirty years they were sent back to be killed by their younger selves, a process known as "closing the loop".

This review contains major spoilers so if you prefer to be surprised, stop reading now - but do see the film if you can as it's exciting and intriguing, even though the logical structure doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

---------------------------MAJOR SPOILERS!-------------------------

The protagonist, Joe Simmons, is one of the loopers. He is played by two different actors: as a young man in 2044 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and as an older man from 2074 by Bruce Willis. The inevitable happens and young Joe turns up for an execution to discover that old Joe is the target. He hesitates, allowing old Joe to escape - a dire crime for which he is pursued by the criminal gang. He goes on the hunt for old Joe, hoping to redeem himself, but when they do meet, matters become complicated.

Old Joe tells his younger self that a powerful and evil criminal known as the Rainmaker had taken over the 2074 underworld and was shutting down the time travel operation, closing all of the loops. He had discovered information about the Rainmaker's identity which meant that he had to be the adult version of one of three 10-year-old boys living in the area - and old Joe meant to kill all three of them to make sure that the Rainmaker never lived to maturity. One of the boys lives on an isolated farm with his mother (Emily Blunt), and young Joe gets to them first, discovering that the boy has powerful telekinetic abilities - and must be the future Rainmaker. However, young Joe becomes involved with the mother who believes that her son will be a force for good if she can bring him up properly. When old Joe arrives, his younger self realises that he is about to shoot the mother as she protects her son, which will result in the boy becoming the embittered Rainmaker. Too far away to intervene directly, young Joe shoots himself, thereby causing his older self to disappear.

On the face of it, Looper is a slick, exciting, unusual and quite intelligent thriller, but on reflection the problems begin to pile up. Put simply, the plot contains some illogical events and major paradoxes - something hinted at in the film itself when old Joe tells young Joe not to try to think about it. For a start, why "close the loop" by killing the older assassins? And if you're going to do that anyway, why have them killed by their younger selves rather than one of the other loopers? If, as a result of young Joe's suicide, old Joe had never existed, then why was young Joe at the farm, and what could have made him kill himself? There are probably quite a few more examples which more analytical viewers can come up with.

Paradoxes of this kind are what you always get when you have single-timeline time travel, and they make a nonsense of the whole plot. This is a very old-fashioned limitation, having been replaced long ago in SF by the notion of the multiverse - parallel worlds, with new ones forever being created at branching points, whenever events change. With this concept, there are no paradoxes, because changes in the past create a different future in parallel with what would have happened without the changes. There is a suggestion of this in the film, with an unexplained scene in which the arrival of old Joe in the past results in young Joe instantly killing him, but this is not followed up (unless I missed something - always possible).

Despite this, it is an intriguing film and one that I am likely to watch again sometime, if only to try to figure out exactly what is supposed to be happening!


Chimeradave said...

Not to mention how they found all these guys after they've had 30 years to disappear! Seems a lot easier to kill the younger versions of them. No muss, no fuss.

And that part in the beginning where there was two versions was strange wasn't it? I felt like they were trying to say the version where the young guys shoots the older version of himself is the original version and that young guy is the one that grows up to be Bruce Willis.

But they never made it clear what changed that allowed Willis to come through with the mask on in one version and with it off in the other. Though the obvious answer is that in the new version he subdued the guys trying to kill him and voluntarily went in the machine and in the original version he didn't subdue them and was forced in.

Fred said...

That was the most inexplicable scene. Old Joe had escaped and suddenly Young Joe waiting for and kills him this time. I couldn't any thing to explain this.

Anthony G Williams said...

Perhaps I should have added that even when directors and screenwriters do incorporate a multiverse, they can get badly confused between the different universes - as happened in the otherwise likeable Déjà Vu, which I reviewed here in February 2008.